Shortly after returning from the SeAVP meeting, I traded in my Toyota Tacoma for a Ford F150 (this is my truck, not the museum’s). I’d had the Tacoma (below, at Carmel Church) for about 2 years and was overall fairly pleased with it. So why trade it in now, especially since the F150 gets 1 mpg worse gas mileage? (Hey, at least my other car is a Prius!)
Believe it or not, practicality had a bigger role to play than testosterone. Certainly, part of the reason was that I was being offered a very generous trade-in on the Tacoma, which are apparently in short supply right now (due in part, I believe, to issues stemming from the recent Japanese tsunami). But I also thought that the F150 suited my work better, so I thought it might be useful to describe just what I was looking for in a field vehicle.
There are a few starting points that I felt I had to have. As is clear in the photos above, both trucks have crew cabs that seat five. That’s pretty important for excavations, since I have to get my diggers out to the site. I prefer not to have a long caravan of vehicles trailing behind me if I can avoid it, and the crew cab usually allows me to get the entire field crew to the site. Perhaps not as obvious is that both trucks have 4-wheel drive. Now, in practice, I practically never use 4-wheel drive. But, the 2 dozen or so times I’ve used it, I absolutely had to have it (like the time I sank my old Ford Explorer in to its axles at Carmel Church). Likewise, if you get caught in the rain at the Two Sisters site in Wyoming, you’re not getting out without a 4X4.
There are some differences in these trucks, though. The F150 has a much larger V8 engine, rather than the Tacoma’s V6. To be honest, I was fine with the V6, but the extra power is nice and it doesn’t seem to adversely affect gas mileage (based on what I’m getting so far). But while I was happy with the Tacoma’s engine, I had concerns about its ground clearance, since I had already torn off a mud guard. Given the weight of rocks and jackets I transport, I was also concerned about the Tacoma’s suspension being up to the task. The F150 is a taller and more rugged vehicle, and I don’t think I’m going to be able to overload it.
Each truck has a customized aluminum shell over the bed. (Fiberglass shells are available, but they are weaker, heavier, and cost more – why does anyone ever buy them?) I liked the Tacoma’s shell, but two years’ use showed that I needed to make some changes to the design to make it more useful.
Both shells had a built-in toolbox, and I added brackets to hold my hammers, which frees up more space. I may add some additional brackets for some other tools. The toolbox also holds boxes containing brushes, dental picks, trowels, chisels, and small digging tools. In the Tacoma the toolbox was on the driver’s side, but in the F150 I had it moved to the passenger side. A lot of my geology work is on roadcuts, and this way I can access the toolbox without standing in the road.
In the Tacoma I had a window on the side of the shell opposite the toolbox. In the F150 I’ve replaced that with a flip-up door. One problem we always had with the Tacoma was unloading jackets, because it was awkward getting around them. Now we can open the door and get at them from the side and from the back, which should dramatically ease unloading.
I added brackets to the ceiling of the shell to hold a shovel, a maddox, and a tarp (not installed in this image). I’d had a shovel bracket in the Tacoma, but it required 2 people to load and it wasn’t strong enough; the shovel would fall if I hit a pothole. As a result I’ve gone with a different bracket design.
After the VAS conference, I stopped by my friend Mike Morriss’ house to make some of the final modifications. Mike had built a wooden platform for the Tacoma so I could double-stack jackets. Again, we learned from experience, and Mike was able to build a stronger but simpler platform for the F150. The F150 bed is taller than the Tacoma’s, so our sediment buckets can fit underneath this platform. Unlike the last platform, this one can be installed or removed by one person in about five minutes (the old one took 2 people about 10 minutes). The whole thing can be broken down into 5 pieces and strapped to the roof rack if the full bed height is required.
With nearly all the modifications completed, I think the truck is ready for its first major test. I head to Wyoming next week. Now if only I could find the same truck as a hybrid…